A Change of Heart

by Michel Butor

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Critical Context

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Like such important contemporary French novelists as Claude Simon, Nathalie Sarraute, and Marguerite Yourcenar, Butor has explored the complex links between narrative techniques and the artistic representation of people’s efforts to discover meaning for the different realities perceived at various times. Unlike most novels, A Change of Heart is written neither from an overtly subjective first-person perspective nor from the objective point of view of an omniscient narrator. The reader’s reactions to this experimental second-person narrative are exceedingly complex. Although forced to view reality as Leon describes it, the reader frequently disagrees with his interpretation of past and present events, realizing that Leon’s vanity causes him to interpret unjustly the innocent actions and comments of Henriette and Cecile. Although not able to identify with Leon’s sentimental problems, the artistry of Butor enables the reader to experience the thought process which leads Leon to “modify” his original decision to separate from Henriette.

Butor wrote A Change of Heart near the beginning of his lengthy literary career, yet this early novel effectively illustrates a theme common to many of his writings. In his works of fiction and in his numerous essays on literary and philosophical topics, Butor has continued to explore techniques for communicating the meaning of perceived reality both to oneself and to others.

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